BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. cut its annual profit outlook on Thursday amid sluggish sales, higher-than-expected health care costs and the need to invest more in its e-commerce operations.
The world's largest retailer eked out a 0.6 percent increase in second-quarter profit, dragged down by a weak U.S. business. A key revenue measure was flat in its U.S. discount stores, though it reversed five straight quarters of declines. Meanwhile, the number of customers has now fallen seven quarters in a row.
The results show the continued challenges facing Wal-Mart's new management team. Doug McMillon, who was head of the company's international division, took over the company as CEO on Feb. 1.
Last month, he named Greg Foran, who was the CEO of Wal-Mart's China business as the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. discount business, which accounts for 60 percent of the company's revenue. Foran, who started his new job earlier this month, replaced Bill Simon, who had held the position since 2010.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company is facing challenges from a slowly recovering economy and fierce competition from the likes of online king Amazon.com, dollar stores and grocers. It's also dealing with a shift among shoppers seeking the convenience of small stores or buying on their mobile devices and PCs.
Wal-Mart's low-income shoppers, who on average make $45,000 a year, were squeezed by the recession that began at the end of 2007 and have struggled to recover since it ended in 2009. While the job and housing markets are rebounding, Wal-Mart's low-income shoppers have not benefited and continue to struggle to stretch their money between paychecks.
Wal-Mart also said Thursday that the Nov. 1, 2013, expiration of a temporary boost in food stamps is still hurting its shoppers' ability to spend.
Analysts believe that competition could get even more intense heading into the final months of the year. Amazon.com is beefing up its services, like recently expanding its same-day delivery. A bigger Dollar Tree also could put more pressure on Wal-Mart. The dollar-store chain announced last month that it's buying rival Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, significantly broadening its reach.
In February, Wal-Mart announced that it will more than double its expansion plans for its Neighborhood Markets and Wal-Mart Express smaller stores that cater to shoppers looking for more convenience with fresh produce, meat and household and beauty products.
In fact, revenue at its Neighborhood Markets rose 5.6 percent during the second quarter, and customer traffic rose 4.1 percent.
Wal-Mart has also vowed it will be move more quickly to bring e-commerce together with physical stores to better serve shoppers. That means rebuilding its e-commerce operation to further personalize the online shopping experience of each customer and making other enhancements.
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